The New Urban Fortress- Part 1, by M.H.

Stealth vs. Tactical

I am a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, retired Navy O-5, a mechanical engineer (academically), and an IT business consultant. I am considered by my colleagues to be an “idea machine”. I have made a good living based largely on my outside-the-box thinking. While I have too many ideas to viably act on all of them, there are enough good ones that all are usually worth at least consideration.

An Idea To Have Readers Find Flaws in My Thinking

I have been prepping for a couple of years now and have come upon an idea that I have not heard elsewhere and that goes counter to many generally acceptable prepper “givens”. However, as time goes on, I am giving it more and more serious consideration and would love to have your readers help me find the flaws in my thinking.

No Easy Answers

With regards to shelter-in-place and/or bug-out locations, there are no easy answers. The classic options given to preppers consist of either indefensible and unsustainable urban homes surrounded by a large population of potential looters or isolated and remote rural homes that will become the repeated target of visitation from an increasingly desperate “golden horde” refugees and/or dangerous marauders. I have come to believe that these represent a false or incomplete list of choices.

Urban Homes Thought Not Viable Options

Classic wisdom says urban homes are not really a viable option because there will be a lack of even the basics once the societal infrastructure fails. Sustainable water, power, and sanitation do not exist and the inability to grow crops make this is a losing proposition from the start.

Rural Homes Only Marginally Better

Unfortunately, with the “golden horde” migration from urban areas endlessly seeking the more remote in hopes of survival options, rural homes are really only marginally better. They can have a well for water, septic tank for sanitation, and even move off-grid for power needs. However, in their isolation, they still stick out, specifically because of the lack of other structures. Rural structures are usually modest in size and scope, due to a limited income that results from living in their remote locations. These rural homes are also frequently spread out and hard to defend.

They would require large numbers to provide round-the-clock manning of observation posts, leaving them susceptible to attack, too often in terms of close-in combat. With limited defenders and virtually unlimited, increasingly desperate adversaries, it is only a matter of time before these enclaves are overrun. Even given open space and tillable soil, sustainable agriculture in this environment is near impossible. Many times it is near impossible to fortify our rural homes to ensure a continued tactical advantage.

Fortress Concept

In days of old, castles were the area’s most formidable defensive structure. They were also the most obvious local landmark that quickly became the focus of attention of adversaries looking to plunder a new area. When attacked, most people from the surrounding area would retreat to the fortress in hopes of surviving the attack. Unfortunately, most castles were unable to provide a truly sustainable defense for a protracted siege. Water or food would run out, and the fortress would eventually fall to a patient enemy. To make matters worse, with the advent of more powerful munitions, castles could no longer even offer a defensible advantage, so the fortress concept eventually fell out of favor.

If urban homes and even rural mini-fortresses will not work, what other options are available?

Stealth vs. Tactical

Preppers love to see themselves as tactically capable. However, there are always larger, more powerful and more desperate groups. We need to consider the idea of allowing “tactical” to take the backseat to “stealth” and then revisit the option of hiding in plain site.

The family of Anne Frank successfully lived in their attic hideaway for almost two years while surrounded by their opposition. Even though the hideout was not tactically strong, the ruse worked for an extended period of time until they were actually betrayed. Their hideout was not even modestly sustainable. It was their need of help from the outside world that eventually disclosed their location. That said, it was the plethora of nearby structures that provided their cover. They had no tactical advantage, because they were not fighting the Germans. They were hiding from them.

The question that comes to my mind, is there any way that you can combine extreme stealth and push tactical advantage to the back seat, to be used only as a “last stand” strategy?

The Urban Fortress

In considering the answer to this question, first I propose that we consider moving the location back into the urban or suburban areas. Not only is it closer to my work, church, and community but the sheer number of larger buildings results in less focus or attention on any single structure. Next, you need to consider where you might be able to create a sustainable hiding place in the midst of these many buildings. Have you ever passed a Target store or other commercial building and noticed how tall the building is for a single level store? Granted, these stores do have very high ceilings, but the structure on many buildings on the outside does not always match up with the ceiling height on the buildings’ interior. People usually don’t question, or even notice, this mismatch, which means we might be able to use it to our advantage.

My Commercial Building

I am considering development of a commercial building, perhaps a warehouse with office space,. It would be in a relatively suburban environment, possibly in a small industrial park. The building would be the height of a three or four story building without windows. There would be a ground floor entry. It would have enough exterior architectural features to avoid looking like a prison, however.

The relatively small number of exterior windows or doors would leave this structure relatively easy to defend. It would be tall enough to make roof entry with a ladder an unlikely option. When commercial buildings have no corresponding windows on the exterior walls, combined with interior ceilings of varying heights, it is difficult to determine exactly how many levels exist in the building’s interior.

Architectural Features and Design

Architectural features on the large, exterior walls can actually insinuate two levels where there are actually three or look like three levels where there are actually four. Elevators can list floors 1 & 2, when there are actually three floors or list floors 1 through 3 and not list the fourth floor. While I intend to lease out the lower floor(s) to commercial tenants, I intend to reserve the top floor of this building for my own “private” business purposes.

For sake of discussion, let’s assume a building with a footprint of ~15,000 square feet. By architectural design, the top floor would be strictly for “offices” and/or administrative space. The top floor “offices” would be a 10,000 square feet “ring” of offices that all have windows that open into a center courtyard that was circa 5000 square feet. The courtyard could be glassed in, greenhouse style, or even left open to the sky above or some combination of both. During the “happy path” days, this top floor courtyard will be a pleasant “green space” with a park-like atmosphere. Planter boxes, trellis, porch swings, hammocks, outdoor kitchen, barbeque, perhaps even a hot tub would all enjoy natural light and create a private retreat. It might even include some artificial turf. I’ll have more about this later.

Access to the Top Floor

Access to the top floor will be designed in such a way as to be not prominently obvious that this level of office space and courtyard even exist. If there is an elevator, the top floor is not even a button option. Instead, this floor would be accessed by entry of a security code. Should the need arise, access to these top floor spaces could be further camouflaged, hardened, and even permanently closed off from the lower floors.

A Large Area Totally Overlooked

The primary goal here is to create a large area that can be totally overlooked. In harsh times, the lower floor(s) could even be looted and ransacked while the top floor remains undetected. The goal would be to create a space where people can remain hidden in a sustainable ”Anne Frank attic” for an extended period of time. It would last at least until such time that the “golden horde” departs the urban/suburban environment in search of food and beyond.

While remaining “hidden” is the topmost priority, let’s expand the discussion to include the factors needed to make this space truly “sustainable”. Tomorrow, I will go over my thoughts regarding options for such subjects as shelter, water, power, food, sanitation, and security in this hidden “urban fortress”. I look forward to sharing the details and then hearing your feed back.

See Also:

SurvivalBlog Writing Contest

This has been another entry for Round 78 of the SurvivalBlog non-fiction writing contest. The nearly $11,000 worth of prizes for this round include:

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  1. Not bad thinking, but am left to wonder what are you going to do about the stench of at least thousands of dead human bodies? Air filtration would be a high priority item. What about vermin carrying disease ? Their numbers would sky rocket in such an event. And of course you have nuclear meltdown to contend with. What a happy world we have created.

    1. My problem is this. I leave East of the Ms River. After everything I’ve read on this site I am concerned I will not be able to make to the Eastern pop density. Although I do live in an extremely rural are just East of the River. Maybe I need to start exploring “out of the box” options.

  2. Great article, particularly to coach ideas from the readers. One question, if the other areas of the building are looted, what happens if the looters set the building on fire?

  3. Fire could be a problem from the entire city area burning. But I’m interested in how to heat it in winter without leaving smoke and cooking smoke signs. Remember elevator needs electricity unless using a pulley system. I’m thinking the movie “omega man” Charlton Heston, I love his building. Also his preps.

  4. There’s some good literature related to this. Read Pax Americana, which is listed on Frugal Squirrel’s website:

    For those of us without a robust budget to look into building large commercial structures, it pays to reconnoiter such places in your general vicinity. Walmart and a whole list of other companies have distribution centers at or very near just about every population center where they have store fronts. It does pay to think outside the box, sometimes.

  5. Im a commercial builder. The cost to build or retrofit the building you describe is well out of the budget of 99% of readers here. Biggest red flag here is HVAC. The heat and humidity on the top floor of a commercial building when grid is down would render your fortress unihabitable.

    1. Harlan,please comment on Fire/Building codes for a habitable structure;egress/fire escape,sprinklers,situating in industrial/commercial zoning,secrecy in possibly public building plans/blue prints and contractor/subs/workers/tradespeople/building inspectors/code enforcement,project financing. I am referring to your experience in commercial building

  6. It is a good idea. Many smaller businesses could be adapted to the concept: soft public area susceptible to looting, hardened concealed basement or attic for emergencies. Assuming adequate storage, ventilation and bunking was available, cooking and waste disposal would be the largest problems. Both generate smells which humans are fairly good at detecting. Tall building could disperse some of the smell as could underground piped elsewhere. Waste remains an issue now as it was for beseiged castles long ago. Running water was used then but it was obvious when humans lived upstream and were just dumpimg. Septic system would probably be best, but problematic im urban areas and won’t handle trash. A grinder could help but is noisy and usually requires a noisy pump.

  7. Let us hear the remainder of your ‘urban castle’ concept, but my initial response:
    A flawed premise based on fiction / a Hollywood scriptwriters imagination.

    Why? As one example, we live near the outskirts of goofball central == Eugene, Oregon. Within the population of approximately 200,000 souls, I estimate we have at least twenty-percent of that number as bums and hardcore drug users. They exist solely because of the charity of church-goers and tax-payers.

    Another thirty-percent are university students.

    Another forty-percent are government agents.

    Another seventy-five percent rely on tax-payers for income.

    Another ninety-percent subsist on the equivalent of food-stamps.

    I deal with these individuals daily. Every minute is a constant defense against intrusion, every night requires constant monitoring against the opposite version of your stealth concept == ‘looters and foragers’ on bicycles towing bicycle trailers.

    Another source of amusement is local government agents. We are constantly consistently probed by them in addition to casual sight-seers using a ‘oops, we made a wrong turn’ approach drive-by.

    Or ‘have you seen my lost dog?’.

    We game this for hours every day, with new ‘what if’ scenarios popping up to test our theories every day. As a pilot, I use the analogy of course-corrections as we are moved off-course from our goal by weather and natural obstacles.

    So, what is the goal?

    I intend this as one possibility, not as an only probability:
    During and after this collapse, we are working to gain area command and control of ‘as far as the eye can see’. For our safety, we will either recruit trespassers… or eliminate threats.

    Based on our experience, there is no middle ground.

    Using a screenplay or a novel for ideas about your survival and the survival of your loved ones is a leaky vessel. Flawed from the get-go.

    Assuming the Frank diary was written by an individual with intimate knowledge of the Netherlands (a leap with no basis…), let’s look at the climax of the novel:
    The protagonist dies.
    The antagonist wins.

    No do-overs, no reset.

    Let’s hear Part Two. Does your theory allow for saboteurs from within? Survivor guilt? Tainted supplies? Proximity-initiated diseases?

    How about the overwhelming numbers of government agents? Barely contained by laws and oversight today, the organized thugs have access to military surveillance equipment and unlimited weapons. How about their ‘total war’ concept they seem inordinately fond of?

    Every fixed location is known… and will be consumed.

    1. Move from Eugene, Oregon to Grants Pass, Oregon and that will solve your problem of living in the “liberal nightmare” of Eugene, Oregon!!!!!

  8. Thinking outside the box ! How about surveillance of the lower floors. Low tech, upside down periscopes, peepholes. Also, a hidden way out in an emergency. Remember Murfey’s Laws of combat, if you make your defenses so strong that the enemy can’t get in, you won’t be able to get out if you have to. Great article, looking foward to more!

  9. What many folks out west are doing is erecting a “Stouse” -A steel building house. One could always erect a steel building which typically falls within a more affordable range for most people and you could build out the inside to be habitation for living spaces as well as having another side for a workspace. You could go so far as to create a number of steel buildings in a box pattern so as to also have a protected center space. This way it’s still affordable and you could still also have some of the security mentioned in the above article. Lastly if I was going to consider doing something like that I would also look at shipping containers. There have been some folks out there who have created fortresses out of shipping in Tanners and even going so far as to put one up on it and to create a tower. Lastly if I was going to consider doing something like that I would also look at shipping containers. There have been some folks out there who have created fortresses out of shipping in Tanners and even going so far as to put one up on it and to create a tower.

  10. “Engineers-coming up with complex solutions for simple problems since the beginning of time”

    It’s good to think outside the box. Just don’t practice outside the box. You’ll get yourself killed.

  11. Wouldn’t the urban looters while using the “Emerald City’ atrium hot tub, notice the interior top floors?

    It’s amusing an AT&T building in any city is not recognized until pointed out. Anyway, corporation structures probably will not be attacked as the looters will know better what will come down if they do. Imitating these structures will only get you a copyright infringement notice in the middle of SHTF … with a bullet. There is a need to differentiate what class of looter one will be encountering.

    I read castles worked until gunpowder arrived, Third Generational Warfare. (genuflect, W.S. Lind). Assuming pedestrian grade looters, going underground might be an option surfacing occasionally to grab a meal … nothing says, ‘Let’s think about this.’ as much as an area littered with skull and bones, Vlad the Impaler meets H.G. Wells “Time Machine”. We can’t all live in the penthouse.

    Rather than having a single structure perhaps many smaller structures in close proximity to each other for overlapping crossfire. Allow the looters to enter the area then close ranks similar to how the Poles allowing the Huns to come through their lines and then closed ranks. Rather than a catastrophic loss a few units will be ‘affected’. In a top-down structure/organization cutting the head off a snake will affect the rest while a confederation of units will absorb a shock better and still be flexible. Stainless vs. carbon steel in blade strength. The type of unit organization will determine the structural form it takes. Mind you this just paper talk.

    Mimicry animals and insect behavior and living habits. Does this mean living in walls? While people don’t notice the space between floors or the top building levels (Murph the Surf Jewel Thief quote “People don’t look up.”, regarding hiding his heist in ceilings.) it’s hard to gauge the thickness of walls. It could be four inches or eight feet as in older utility walls. It’s the interstices between units/objects that a person’s attention falls through ‘the cracks’. Ever lay out floor joists? While there may be twenty joists there are nineteen spaces in between them. So what? People make mistakes laying out joists because of this. As one magician said, when performing a trick some audience members look at the start of a hand movement, others at the hand movement and some at the card with the nude picture. Build your structure close by where there’s something more inviting to attack. From Youtube, the first CIA manual was a book of magician’s hand tricks, supposedly for dispersing poison in a drink. Therefore, study arthropods doing magic tricks. Or at least, sorry this is getting long, where people make mistakes in their thought process. Everyone does, could be between step three or four in a math problem converting unit measurements, but they usually have a brain f*rt in the same place consistently. Take advantage of that.

    Lastly, in the illustrious words of Pastor Joe Fox, ‘Viking Preparedness’, “If the enemy is at your mailbox, it’s too late.”

  12. Hiding in plain site; just thinking out loud I see some things to consider.

    Is it legal to build and use? It could work for someone with lots of money. If a joint venture it would be difficult to keep secrete. It would likely be possible to build most of he building according to local building codes, but would require illegal modification after the final approval; that makes the owner subject to fines or “shut down” if changes are discovered later. Changes might be discovered by a tenant or service or maintenance technician. If the building is used before TEOTWAWKI this would also create extra liability in the event of a fire or natural disaster. If the lower areas are to be used at all it would be important that it not involve using or storing something that attracts looters. With that in mind if it is an owner occupied building or if the commercial use of the building is a sham (no real paying tenant or real business use) it might work. Regardless there should be enough activity to discourage homeless addicts from moving in or curious after school kids for hanging out. Sounds VERY expensive already!

    Location? Still thinking out loud, a humid climate, such as eastern U. S. would help reduce the chance of wildfires. With no one irrigating lawns and no fire departments there could be wild fires in cities and suburbs also. A location on the outside edge of a small industrial park just outside of a small town (maybe next to a farm field) might give more fire protection. A Goldilocks climate would be needed (not to hot or too cold). The described design has no windows on the secrete floor so all ventilation must come through the center atrium. Solar powered fans might help but occupants will still need a place to escape the heat. Maybe a shaded and hidden screen room on the roof could be designed. Heating and cooking could be done with propane but it might take a lot of it, which means large tanks. Can a lot of large Propane tanks be kept secrete from inspectors, technicians, and the lawn care guys? Even if they do not think much of it at the time, will they remember and come back later when their heat and power are off? If stealth fails a defensible location will not help much, it would be more important to have a location with a good escape way, such as a tunnel, ditch, wall, hedge row, river, any thing to give cover or protection to facilitate your escape would be good.

    Some good food for thought for small scale application

  13. After watching the Farmland video on South Africa, The weakness of rural homes was evident. There has also been an increase in rural crime in my area. NO perfect answers. Thankful there is a God that is in control, and this world is not my eternal home.

    In my area I expect the first winter to take care of most of the hordes.

  14. Open roof, open courtyard can be defeated by a dropped in helicopter team, or hang gliders, or snipers from taller buildings up to a mile away, or even catapulted bodies or rocks or flaming pitch. So, your open roof garden looks like a welcome center from above. A commercial building will have to have handicapped access to every floor. A lack of electricity will defeat elevators. Stairways will have to conform to code. Etc, on and on.
    Better, a small community in a hilly area. One that hardly now notices a lack of power for a week or even a month. One where neighbors clear a tree off the road with their chainsaw with no afterthought. Or can drop one on the road just as fast. One where deer hunting is a way of life.

    1. Upon second thoughts, a indoor “Secure off-site storage” facility might fit the bill. A multiple vault, rain and freeze resistant storage facility with on-site security (your family) might work. Use the vaults as the central core. An old unused Kmart or Walmart might quickly get all kinds of approval from regulators. Who would know what’s in every vault when shtf.

  15. I agree that more outside-the-box thinking is needed in the prepper community. I agree HUGELY with your estimate of the value of being hidden. But there are a few issues: 1) ANY place, anywhere and at any time, can become unlivable. Just one example might be large nearby fires of long duration. There ALWAYS has to be at least some consideration for the idea of completely moving, and a complete new plan — in the midst of the absolute worst conditions for such a move. 2) Your idea fails when facing “kinda” bad times. What if there’s no major catastrophe, no colossal social upheaval…but things just sort of “turn vaguely hopeless?” An example might be a nearly complete collapse of the economy. In that sort of instance a small farm in the back country would be just the thing — where, among other things, one can form alliances with neighbors at considerable benefit to all. 3) An urban area, just by the realities of large numbers, will present every POSSIBLE scenario. For example, there will be a certain proportion of dedicated people who will be very carefully searching every nook and cranny for anything that might possibly be useful — especially if they believe the buildings are utterly abandoned. You might end up being found because of a very different psycho/social framework from the sort that protected Anne Frank. She actually lived in an occupied home.

    I do like your idea as a transitional one — while waiting to find that ideal hidden farm (from which you can conduct your IT career). My personal idea is to have a small farming area hidden within an area which appears to be forest among forests. Plans would involve a fairly quick and direct way to hide the entrance road — perhaps with prepared, potted plants and small trees, which could be planted at the entrance to disguise it. Any plan which depends on surviving numerous gunfights is not a good plan. Hiding MUST be a major feature.

    I look forward to reading more…

  16. People gonna get curious when you don’t get off the elevator at the top floor. Not to mention hearing the elevator continue upwards after the doors close.

    Fire is the biggest concern. You could likely solve the HVAC problem with more windows, but depending on where you live it could get pretty warm in the summer.

    Army doctrine for clearing buildings is to enter at the top, if possible, to allow the occupants to exit at the bottom. Entering at the bottom drives occupants upwards, leaving them no escape, and causing them to fight harder to survive. Besides, a hand grenade, left to its own devices, will bounce down the stairs rather than up.

  17. I like your idea but the majority of readers cannot afford any such thing. However, an acquaintance of mine bought a vacant building in a small town in the Midwest. It is constructed of brick, and was at one time a retail store on a corner. When I first saw it, the first thing that occurred to me was that it would make a fortress. It was dirt cheap, and after a total remake of the first floor, it is now 3 or 4 apartments with a VERY small investment of under $40,000. He is planning to keep renting them but in an emergency, he will move his family in because it is secure and easily defended, although in my opinion, its location in a small Midwest town makes that scenario unlikely. But he is a tactical thinker.

  18. I like your idea but the majority of readers cannot afford any such thing. However, an acquaintance of mine bought a vacant building in a small town in the Midwest. It is constructed of brick, and was at one time a retail store on a corner. When I first saw it, the first thing that occurred to me was that it would make a great fortress. It was dirt cheap, and after a total remake of the first floor, it is now 3 or 4 apartments with a VERY small investment of around $30,000. He is planning to keep renting them but in an emergency, he will move his family in because it is secure and easily defended, although in my opinion, its location in a small Midwest town makes that scenario unlikely. But he is a tactical thinker.

  19. This concept seems to fit in the fiction/fantasy category. From a practicality standpoint it is unrealistic at best. Its fun to think about, but lets get serious. Code compliance, egress, fire protection, zoning conformance, ADA compliance, engineering, MEP system integration, architectural plan review, storm water protection- these are all real life hurdles that would eliminate most components in this concept.

    Have you ever dealt with a bulding or zoning department? How bout an architectural review board? How bout dealing with these bureaucracies in a major (leftist controlled) city? Do you think your plans would remain confidential? To get a CofO for commercial activity or residence, the building would be inspected multiple times. You could get NDAs with a contractor/architect, but a city/county entity- HA!

    Then there’s the issue of acquiring this unicorn of a property. Are you paying cash? If not, good luck obtaining commercial financing from a lender on this type of concept. The cost to purchase/build/remodel this (non income producing) building is completely out of reach for the average person/business.

    That being said- A+ for creativity. I try to approach every business/property deal from a creative perspective. However, creativity must be bound by reality.

  20. I disagree with your premise on rural homes. Rural is the only long term sustainable. You need access to water and the ability to grow your own food. Rural is the only way to do that.

    As for security, get to know your neighbors. It shouldn’t be every farm for itself. It should be your rural community against outsiders. That combined with a bit of distance from large population centers and you should be able to make it work.

    We found a small very defensible valley. with a total population of about 1000 people but all very rural. More cows than people. We could easily block off the only highway in and out. And no sizable group could come over the mountains

    Don’t try and be an island. Get plugged in with your local community (through church etc).

    1. “rural is the only long-term sustainable”

      actually most rural areas are banana republics, sustainable only because they can sell their one or two export products to a larger city which sells them everything else. cities are the long-term sustainable locations. that’s where the (initial) farmland and water and trade routes are, that’s why they were built there in the first place.

      1. I beg to differ. You’re not going to be selling anything from your farm in a grid down approach to society. Your farm is now used to feed family and extended family and anyone inside your trusted group. It’s self sufficient in a grid up or a grid down.

      2. “cities are the long-term sustainable locations” in a SHTF scenario???

        cities are death traps. Without the grid and modern technology, and transportation systems they die very quickly. They have no food or water, plus all the violence as all those people try and get food and water

  21. Urban vs. rural? Selco at shtf school, with plenty of real world experience in Bosnia, says urban is a nightmare. Golden Hordes? That’s why we moved to the Redoubt.

    Strongly suggest Op read, or re-read, “How To Survive The End Of The World” by JWR,
    and “Strategic Relocation” by Joel Skousen.

    1. “golden hordes? that’s why we moved to the redoubt.”

      you won’t get golden hordes in the redoubt. you’ll get professional assault teams who will survive, not by storing preps, but by taking yours.

      1. Your point is well taken. But we must ask: How long will that small number of teams last, in a rural region where people are predominantly well-armed? I don’t believe that those teams will last very long. And the statistical chance of meeting looters will be just a fraction of what you’ll encounter in urban regions. The demographics are inescapable. Fewer people will mean fewer problems, in a societal collapse. Ponder the inverse. That is not where I want to be!

        1. “how long will that small number of teams last”

          one may envision any number of possible scenarios. but I’d assert that if they hit first, they can last a long time. and quite possibly their scout knows you and your capabilities and the lay of the land very well already.

          (shrug) least, that’s’ how I’d do it.

          1. If your scout knows us then you must be one of us and I don’t foresee a mutiny in our tightly knit off grid rural community. We are so far removed and against mountains there’s no way looters would be scouting us well in advance of a grid down. Nor in a grid down when we all leave our day jobs and are full time on our well stocked and fortified ranches surrounded with fencing, barbed wire and off grid solar powered security cameras. Oh and heavily armed too.

            Good luck breaking us.

          2. Yeah, the “teams” we be absolutely destroyed. Many of us were 11B, so bring it. You need a three to one advantage just to get close to us. You must think we don’t know how to fight. We do. Our teams will be bigger than your teams, and we will be better armed as well. Never take on the indigenous people. That has always worked so well in the past. Why do you think we live in Idaho? Like minded people with skill sets. Thanks for the comment though, made me order another case of ammo just to make sure.

  22. Thinking outside the box means letting go of the box of regulations and playing free-form. Yes, there’s nine hundred and ninety-nine reasons why something won’t work and maybe one reason that’ll it’ll work. No guarantees (buy a toaster if you want a guarantee).
    And that’s a disadvantage of the box, it’s regulated for a reason, mainly safety. But when times go upside down it becomes a Titanic deathtrap.

    Go along with Building Codes but focus on what the future goal is. Plan adaptively to build on later. Example, I lived in a three story boarding house. One corridor ended one room beyond where another corridor joined it at ninety angles so there was a sort of cul-de-sac area with one door to an apartment.
    I left for a time and come back. One day I noticed there wasn’t any door where one used to be. Someone had taken out the door when no one was there and plastered over the opening. In the apartment above a fireman’s pole ladder went down to that room. No one else noticed. Ergo, party room.

    Moral: Just because something was build today doesn’t mean it can’t be transformed later. Go forth my son, improvise and plan adaptively. (And quit be negative.)
    But ya’ gonna suspense belief for a while.

    “He who adapts faster in war, wins.”

    1. Im failing to to see the equivalency of jerry-rigging a bootleg party room in a boarding house and developing a mixued use multi-story commercial property in a major city. How is operating a business in a legitimate and legal manner “be negative”? No amount of metaphors or colloquialisms can change the principals of conducting your affairs within the constraints of reality.

  23. The permits and inspections required in a city make this very difficult to build new. If it was built in an area where there is minimal inspection, a septic tank and well would be required. Using a six inch well casing and a 120 volt pump operated by grid power or solar if the grid is down would work. Pump the water into a tank on the top floor and use another pump to supply water to the living areas. Install city water to the garage. Run the well casing and other pipes inside a wall and wrap the pipes with sill sealer to keep them quiet. Extend the well casing to the top floor in a wall to conceal it. If the building had high doors to park RVs or tractor trailer rigs it would be less noticeable to sneak in a second and third story. With your elevator it would make sense to have a basement that would be cooler for sleeping and avoiding summer heat and radiation if there is fallout. This would take a lot of twenty gauge steel decking, concrete, and #5 rebar. A HVAC unit could be installed on a nearly flat roof with solar panels for when the grid is down. Using skylights instead of windows on the top floor will work. If the building looks like a garage it will not normally have food for thieves to steal. It might fool the average thief, but not an organized military unit that can see it from above.

  24. dunno. some brand new warlord is going to look at your building and think, “that could be my base of operations. hey … what’s this space between here and the roof?”

  25. I also look forward to the 2nd installment. Thoughts:

    Having driven a for-hire vehicle for many years in a decently large city, through suburbs and less populated areas, I’d have to agree with Gramma. There are no areas where the
    homeless don’t live, even quiet industrial parks, and they notice everything. If they don’t pick everything clean in a complete breakdown situation. the gangs they align with for protection surely will. It’s unrealistic to think otherwise.

    Anne Frank lived when the grid was up, in the attic of an occupied apartment behind her fathers business, and had local help. It’s amazing they lasted 2 years. Who is going to defend this huge industrial building in a drone world? In a Google earth world?

    I would have to agreed with Nothingisperfect that a small community in a hilly area is the most promising scenario. I also have to say that even if you left now and began residence in such a community, you are still the stranger and outsider and will be for years. As a local has said, as reported by one of the readers here, “You may live here, but you ain’t from here”. Actually, nothing is scarier than the thought that I would be alone in a rural area, where every local knows where you are, including the meth-heads.

    In a really really bad situation, we may very well be on our own, if we’re still alive, which most of us will not be, possibly. So, what to do?

    Scope out small hilly communities if at all possible. Increase you’re skills as much as you can such as shooting, canning and medical first aid and bring stuff into the community which contributes to the safety of all. Ammunition (lots) and medical supplies (lots) come to mind. This stuff may be invaluable to them and they may be unable to go out for it for a long time. It can fit into one vehicle and with a lot of luck you may make it to that community with something to offer.

    Let the locals lead and be a willing member of the team. Be available to do anything.

    If you really have the resources to build a huge commercial building buy something instead which would help you in any possible escape and be invaluable to this small community out there. Night vision devices with plenty of batteries with perhaps a small solar recharging setup are incredible force multipliers. Start with one unit and practice with it. Keep fit. Learn to hike over all terrain now with your night vision. Night sight takes away a lot of the scary.

    If the signs become really bad and you choose to take the chance to leave early.
    get several more night vision devices for others if possible.

    I look forward to the next installment. One always learns something of value in these discussions.

  26. As someone with long experience in construction and trade work, your idea will be extremely hard to pull off.
    Any municipality worth building such a structure in will have a strict permitting and inspection process. It will be absolutely impossible to hide what you are doing from city planners, inspectors, your general contractor, and pretty much every construction worker who spends much time on the site. That’s far too many people who know your secret.
    As has been pointed out, most of the easier to build designs that suit this purpose will be near uninhabitable once the electricity is removed from the building. There are also valid concerns about smoke and cooking smells.
    Further, say you build your four story building and manage to later hide or seal off access to a portion of it for this purpose. Two years later somebody a block away builds a ten story building, or a fifty story goes up a mile or two or even more away. Your rooftop garden plan is now in constant danger of discovery from overlook, negating a large part of your planning.
    I like the idea of playing possum. It’s very attractive due to the dangers inherent in movement during a WROL event. However, I do not think it is long term sustainable without a very large budget, and if you have that kind of budget, wouldn’t whatever you are doing be better hidden far from population centers?

  27. In addition to the various problems listed above, I think one of the basic premises is flawed: the assumption that the “golden horde” will reach truly rural areas in any numbers.

    Let’s face it, a lot of them will die before they even try to leave the cities, a lot will die while they leave, and a lot will give up when they find they’re behind the leading edge of the wave and the leading edge took everything easy to take.

    Some – and they’ll include a large percentage of the really dangerous city dwellers – will make it. Some always do. With nothing more than they could carry on their backs, and after a physical and mentally exhausting journey. Leave your retreat, pick a direction, and start walking with nothing more than what you can carry. Did you reach a city before you ran out of supplies? You’ve got a security problem and need to prepare for the horde. Imagine repeating, taking into account terrain obstacles and such, until you’ve gone in every direction.

    Suburbia will fall to the horde. Rural areas near cities (again accounting for terrain obstacles – mobs don’t travel in straight lines) will fall to the horde. Huge areas of the country won’t.

  28. Here’s the thing that haunts me about any kind of SHTF building: Fire

    One of the (many) public services that will go the way of the dodo in any situation where you seriously need a Anne Frank style hideaway is fire protection. Its expensive, it is subject to supply chain disruption (from no water pressure in the mains or no fuel for your trucks to no ability to call in firefighters or equipment from other states and countries), and it requires a relatively collaborative and orderly society to happen at all(cover me I’m going to put out the building fire isn’t a thing).

    My belief is the risk of massive fires is larger in an urban setting, because you have very large populations of untrained folks (polite for fools) who will be trying to heat their homes and light their homes after dark. I consider the recurring stories about how, in any significant blackout or winter storm, a few people asphyxiate themselves by running their generator inside or burning their house/apartment building down in some manner… multiply this by a much longer event, more people involved, and fewer resources (what happens when the batteries or candles run out?)… plus a lack of preventative maintenance as society fails in some manner increasing risks… and I see big urban fires a la Chicago or San Francisco.

    Yes, modern buildings are much more fire safe than older buildings… but even modern fire safe urban areas can still burn if a fire gets going, see what’s happening in California as the fires move though – and that’s with a healthy nation, global fire fighting resources at hand (they have strike teams on loan form Australia for goodness sakes) , and many millions in funding at the ready.

    So I don’t know how you protect against this, and that in turn creates risks. Considering the idea of a commercial building… I actually suppose a commercial structure that comes with a very large parking lot hardscape around the building offers a hidden firebreak (and clear fire lanes if you need to shoot), so that’s a positive. If your building looks like a Wallmart with an acre of tarmac around it, it is likely a plus. If your building looks like a warehouse in the middle of a dense commercial zone with no- or narrow alleys your only firebreak, it may not be worth it. Especially if your building exists in an earthquake zone where heavy concrete or stone construction is contradicted.

  29. The author provides valuable ideas for urban folks. I get it. Being a country guy it is difficult for me to jump into addressing ‘Where you want to hunker down when chaos hits?’ ‘Who do you want to be with when chaos hits?’ Those you are with will make all the difference. I’d put a lot of weight on factors such as faith, morals, skills, self-sufficiency, independence, and civility. No offense but IF so, would these not be deal-breakers for urban shelter-in-place models?

  30. For thousands of years the best model was, live in a walled city for safety from random hordes and highwaymen. Work the fields during the day and retreat within the walls at night. Generally speaking the walls were good protection and worked pretty well against soldiers on foot or horseback.

    On the other hand, you have the Masada… as the realtors say, “location, location, location”… it was in the desert, walls 100 meters high… cisterns, bath houses, storerooms… they had it all, yet the roman army still defeated it. Most everyone inside committed suicide rather than be taken prisoner. Not a tactic that exactly works with a plan of survival.

    I’ve considered the idea of building a cinder block wall around a large compound, say 5 or 10 acres, but those same walls could be used against you by snipers if you didn’t have constant patrols. Also it would be incredibly expensive to build. The Great Wall of China didn’t really work out that well either.

    I think I’ve come to the conclusion that its better to have a large cleared area around your home (fort) so you can see the bad guys coming from a long way off. And plenty of dogs and geese to announce their presence. Maybe use natural razorwire, like a raspberry vine hedge to slow them down without providing concealment and cover.

    The American Indians lived in open villages with no walls or fences or defensive structures. The answer was to be prepared to fight when the enemy showed up. Weapons not walls.

    It seems like its a problem of, how much money do you want to spend? And where do you want to live?

    1. Cinder block walls are fairly easily defeated by most .30 cal rifles. Also, ramming by vehicles or a swingram type siege weapon create holes pretty quickly.

    2. I’m glad someone finally mentioned the suicides of Masada. Was it morally wrong? How many of us will find ourselves facing that same dilemma? Is it off-limits to request a discussion on the most humane way to accomplish self-sacrifice when you become a life-threatening weak link for your group or to avoid an inevitable death which would be horrific?

    3. @Professor Wagstaff: I believe the best idea is to have a clear space around your land with random holes and rocks along with iron railroad ties embedded vertically in a perimeter wide enough to prevent fast assault by foot, horse, or vehicle on your home. Pretty hard to hide and to run across uneven ground that is open. Create winding trails through the hidden barrier for entering and exiting. Have a sniper on the roof to pick it from anyone not traveling the path.

  31. Keep in mind Lines of Drift. If you live in a reasonably secure area, such as North Idaho, you must take into account how this “Golden Horde” will get to your A/O. Any serious evaluation of your situation should take into account how to defend the ways invaders can reach you. Living where I do in Kootenai CO, ID, I have my range card filled out and keep a constant watch on the railroad beds which lead from the Washington Soviet Republik.
    When the economic meltdown takes place(which NO ONE!!! can predict), the Walking Dead will be heading in my direction as soon as they run out of Pepsi and Nacho Cheese Doritos. They will roll over the patriots in Spokane Valley and Otis Orchards in a heart beat. They may even have commandeered some of Sheriff Ozzie’s war surplus MRAPS, which his buddy Barack gave him.
    In a fluid situation such as I have described, the last place I want to be is hunkered down in some make-believe “fortress” which can be torched by a mob of starving, desperate, drug addicts. Have a plan. A secure, non-descript base of operations is a definite necessity. It will be also necessary to take the fight to the invaders. Read Sun Tzu.

  32. Knowing what I know, living the last few years in southern California until I was able to retire was a thing of nightmares. I can’t imagine anything worse than being stuck with 15 million people whose electricity, food, water, and internet just got shut down.

    My move to the American Redoubt last year was such a relief. Building a 3-4 story office building is expensive, so I presume you have access to funding. Why not buy a large property in a defensible rural location and put a dozen log kit cabins up, then populate them with some trustworthy young families. Former military, former LEO, medically trained, teachers, builders, farmers, you could have a small community in addition to your own family. There are many knowledgeable and skilled preppers who would jump at the chance to move away to a rural area if they could afford it. I can think of four entire families I know who are God-fearing, righteous, generous, decent salt of the earth people that I would gift with a home this very day, if I had the money. I could probably come up with another half dozen if I thought about it for awhile.

    When the balloon goes up, you are going to want to be where the Golden Horde is NOT. When that day comes, if already surrounded by good people you know and respect, what a great advantage that would be.

    When I moved up here, I unknowingly bought a property that is a stone’s throw from a guy who is a prepper, gun savvy, medically trained, and super nice, well connected in this small community. It’s a great comfort to know he is there. There are lots of people already up here who are homesteading, living close to nature, working on improving their skills, meeting other like minded people and building alliances. If I could design my own situation without regard to my financial limitations, I would just multiply that effect by creating my own neighborhood.

  33. No matter where you are, once they set you on fire and wait for you to come out it is all over. Once you run out of friends and family to cover your back it is all over. Once you run out of food and water and ammo it is all over. So, don’t let them set you on fire or run out of food and water and ammo and friends and family and you should be ok. Maybe.

  34. Hardened or protected urban residences are fine when the rule of law exists because they delay invaders until the police or paid security can respond. They also make criminals of convenience look for softer targets. But in a long-term grid-down situation where there is no law enforcement, you would quickly become target central.

    As supplies dwindle, even commercial buildings will be searched and stripped clean of items like food and beverages in kitchens and vending machines, first aid supplies, spare batteries, paper and other things to burn for heat, useful tools, a place to escape the rain, a couch to crash on, things to bust up for fun, etc.

    Worst of all, when you finally need to bug out, you’re starting from the city.

    Having lived in cities, I prefer a wood stove, a clear spring, a pit toilet, and a long dirt road.

  35. I have to agree with an earlier reply regarding drones and particularly Google Earth. I use it all the time to reconnoiter my AO. There is no way that you will be able to hide the courtyard or anything on the roof.

    With the money that would be required to build your mental exercise, you’d be better off buying one of the decommissioned missile silos. Nobody is going to burn you out of one of those. Interestingly enough, none were built in urban or suburban areas.

  36. There’s considerable overlap between “fortress” and “environmentally responsible”. Play up the latter. Insulated Concrete Form construction is super energy efficient, perfect for a climate controlled warehouse. It’s also fire resistant and provides ballistic protection. Have room for a surrounding parking lot? Build stormwater retention tanks under the lot, which covers your fresh water needs until your filters run out (the tanks collecting building runoff, not lot runoff!). Rooftop solar panels? Why, that’s good green thinking. Underground floors? You’re making efficient use of space without polluting the skyline, and it’s a potential fallout shelter. Underground infrastructure in general is good if you can afford it. You’re a save-the-planet environmentalist and cheap-to-operate capitalist. Maybe offer commercial freezers for your farmer friends raising grass fed meat? Composting toilets… well, maybe keep those stored until needed, unless there are commercial grade designs?

    Having such an urban fortress and friends out in the country, if not your own country property might be an interesting barbell strategy. So long as you’re not caught between the two when things go bad you’ll have improved your odds quite a bit.

  37. A very interesting and thought provoking idea.

    In order to expose the most glaring flaws, approach it from the perspective of methodical, intelligent adversaries. If they enter on the ground floor, clear each level as they progress upwards, and are prevented from going higher prior to reaching the roof, rest assured that they’re going to thoroughly investigate the reason.

    Fire seems to be the Achilles heel in just about every situation, regardless of location, and I have yet to see anyone offer truly effective solutions to this problem (beyond the usual: having ample fire extinguishers and sand buckets, using precious water if available, or if via Molotov cocktail, engaging the threat at distance).

    Keep in mind that besides determined raiders, your hidden Shangri-La may be reduced to smoldering embers by nothing more than a cold, hungry squatter starting a small fire on the ground floor to keep warm or heat that last can of Soylent Green.

    No plan or location is perfect, but I believe in studying the past to help predict the future (as well as human nature/previous behaviors), and I agree with Mr. Rawles and many other commenters here when it comes to playing the percentages regarding the sheer number of people (i.e. potential problems) in cities versus American Redoubt areas.

    Study The Art of War, Thermopylae, and The Book of Five Rings for starters, and think deeply about how to apply these time-tested principles to modern problems such as this.

  38. Lots of food for thought here , As far as moving from Eugene to Grants Pass , FYI there are several freerider groups in that area who are planning on taking supplies / stash’s from preppers During SHTF. they are known and are growing , Not the people you want living next to you . They have also infiltrated several survival / MAG’s that are active . talk to SOS in Down town Grants Pass. OPSEC Always

  39. ALL the information you publish is of substantial value. The variables are almost infinite and therefore there is no one answer. Situational awareness, the correct survival gear, experience and critical thinking will assist you in making the better choices. Those who hunker down in one perfectly selected location, also have to be aware that as things unfold their status will sooner or later change and they must be flexible enough to leave all of there work and possessions behind when the threat level increases to the point they must migrate or die.
    I speak from years of experience in mission planning and execution. There is often unforeseen circumstances and the ever present human factor that is constantly changing. In the end you must be very flexible and open minded to constantly change your posture and location to maintain your safety and survivability. Ironically, I have also seen the least qualified, least experienced, dumbest of the group live when the best got whacked.

  40. Wow, the haters turned out in force. I applaud the creativity of the writer!!! Not everyone can move to a farm in Idaho.

    I have been rolling over a similar idea. What if the commercial building was a high security back up server farm? This purpose would explain so much. The moat, the thick doors, the lack of windows, your desire for secrecy, the high power needs of the structure, the extreme security measures.

    You would have real clients and real staff. It’s a real business. But not highly successful. Unknown to almost all, a percentage of the servers actually empty boxes that hold survival supplies. And the electrical maintenance area is also where the hydoponic garden is.

    Use your creativity!

  41. Assuming he can cover tires being stacked around his “fortress” and set afire, assuming he REALLY has stored enough supplies including water, and assuming he wants to live in a sealed box without windows for “the duration”, this is still at best a plan for a brief interruption in normal life. Castles had armies, and controlled food-growing territory round about.

  42. Keep 2 ‘offices’ on each floor, directly above one another. Hide the stairs and a freight elevator to the hidden floors in these offices, with reinforced walls and high security doors. Make it look like another tenant for the stairs, and some type of utility room, like extra ‘air handlers’ for the HVAC, for the freight elevator. One set of the offices is primary access, the other can be smaller as an escape, perhaps connected to an underground egress.

  43. “Access to the top floor will be designed in such a way as to be not prominently obvious that this level of office space and courtyard even exist. If there is an elevator, the top floor is not even a button option. Instead, this floor would be accessed by entry of a security code. Should the need arise, access to these top floor spaces could be further camouflaged, hardened, and even permanently closed off from the lower floors.”

    Not likely. Elevators must be inspected, by building code, yearly, and I’ve NEVER seen a setup like this that would get the required C of O by the local jurisdiction in the first place.

    Besides that, it’s not as if someone who is CURIOUS about a building can’t get into the elevator shaft and go for a climb. It’s far easier than you think, and young adults have the physical capabilities to accomplish this with relative ease.

    Then there is the “threat of fire,” which is pretty common when the Horde just wants to cause mayhem. The buildings being described, and I’ve designed MANY of these, will not likely survive, DESPITE the usual noncombustible construction of the main building elements.

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